Friday, 29 January 2016

week 4 blogging question: TEI in the wild

This week's blogging question involves some hunting and gathering: how do digitization projects, digital editions, and other forms of digital humanities research use and talk about the Text Encoding Initiative? Can you find a digital project that not only puts TEI to use, but also provides some explanation of its XML encoding strategies -- or even shares its XML for other researchers to use? Let's use this week's blogging question to find out, and we'll talk more about the TEI in detail in Monday's class.

If you've checked out the recommended reading for our previous class, you'll have seen one example in the Comic Book Markup Language project. The example you find doesn't necessarily have to be a book-oriented project, but it should be doing something scholarly and interesting with TEI. You could start by looking into the TEI community's online presence or conferences, and looking for projects affiliated with TEI or those that simply reference it.

Once you've found an example that interests you, tell us just a bit about what the project is, and how it puts XML to use. Does the project website give much detail about how it uses XML, and the encoding strategies it uses? Has the project gone so far as to publish articles about its methods and challenges? Finally, does the project make its code available for others to use? The answer to this last question could be more than a simple yes or no -- for example, a project might make code available only to subscribers, or, like the Folger Digital Texts project, to the public.

My guess is that projects that actually share their code (as distinct from talking about sharing it) will be in the minority -- or perhaps I'm just world-weary and jaded, and you'll prove me wrong! In any case, we should be able to build a collective picture of what TEI looks like in its natural habitat as of early 2016. My hope is that this exercise in hunting-and-gathering, in combination with TEIbyExample and Monday's class, will help us understand not just what XML is, but also what it's for.

Thursday, 28 January 2016

follow-up to weeks 1-2

Normally I'll post a follow-up each week, but this week's post will be a bit of an omnibus to get caught up. In our week 2 class we considered Ramelli's book wheel, which you can read more about in the supplementary article I posted to the week 2 readings, titled "Reading the Book of Mozilla." There's also a film version of The Three Musketeers in which the book wheel makes an appearance (Michael York's character obviously doesn't know what it is, but finds out how it works in a pretty funny pratfall). I also alluded to another image of a futuristic reading technology, as it was imagined in 1935 (which those of you in my Research Methods class will recognize):

This image came from an issue of Everyday Science and Mechanics, and was recently popularized in a story in Smithsonian Magazine. The U.S. patent filed for the device can be found here: . A tip of the hat to my RA Matthew Wells for finding this.

Downloadable lecture slides for weeks 1-2 are now posted on Blackboard, and you can view an embedded version here:

In our discussion of disciplinary frameworks for the course, I also mentioned a post about digital humanities by Andrew Prescott that's well worth reading:

Thursday, 21 January 2016

week 3 blogging question: on representation

I'll post a separate follow-up to our Monday class, but for now wanted to get the coming week's blogging question posted before it slips past me.

Our upcoming sequence of classes on XML and TEI will lead us into the topic of using digital technologies to create representations of existing artifacts (like digitized books), as distinct from born-digital artifacts like video games and hypertext fictions. This week's blogging question is designed to get us thinking about representation, digital technologies, and what's at stake in that relationship.

At the beginning of one of our readings for this coming week, Michael Sperberg-McQueen starts with a counter-intuitive claim: "Texts cannot be put into computers. Neither can numbers. ... What computers process are representations of data" (p. 34). This helpful reminder serves to point out the paradox of the term digitization: when we say we're digitizing a book, we're not actually doing anything to the original book (usually; there are exceptions), and are really just creating a new, second-order representation in digital form. Yet the English word digitization, and its grammatical form of an action (making digital) performed on an object (something not digital), can elide the act of representation that underlies all digitization. Why is this important? Sperberg-McQueen's answer is that "Representations are inevitably partial, never distinterested; inevitably they reveal their authors' conscious and unconscious judgments and biases. Representations obscure what they do not reveal, and without them nothing can be revealed at all" (p. 34). This line of argument leads to a deceptively simple consequence for everyone involved in digitization: "In designing representations of texts inside computers, one must seek to reveal what is relevant, and obscure only what one thinks is negligible" (p. 34). All digitizations, being representations, are choices -- so we'd better learn how to make good ones.

This week's question, like last week's, asks you to share examples. Can you think of some specific act of digitization -- it could be anything: an image, an ebook, digital music, you name it -- where an originally non-digital object or artifact (very broadly defined) has been digitized in ways that reveal interesting (or controversial, or funny, or illuminating) representational choices. However, I'm not asking for examples simply of digitization getting something wrong; rather, I'd like to know when a choice made in digital representation illuminates some quality of the original thing that we might otherwise take for granted. Of course, your example might arise from digitization going wrong somehow, but I'd like us to look beyond basic error-identification for this question. What does the error—or simply choice—in representation teach us about the original?

For example, if you bought the Beatles's record Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band on vinyl LP when it was first released in 1967, you'd experience it in at least a couple of different ways than if you bought it on iTunes today, or on CD in 1995. For one, an LP listener would need to flip the record over partway through, which may or may not give the impression of the whole album being divided into a 2-part thematic structure: some bands exploited this imposed division of records into Sides 1 & 2, but not all did. More to the point, an LP listener reaching the very end of the record, in which the song "A Day in the Life" ends on a long E-major chord that would just keep on resonating in a continuous loop until one lifted the needle from the record's run-out groove. A CD track or MP3 file can't (or simply doesn't) do this. What is the representational choice here, and why does it matter? I'd offer the answer that the original design of the Sgt. Pepper LP involves the listener physicially in the music, in that "A Day in the Life" only ends when you chose to lean over and stop the record. That effect is lost in the digitized version of the album -- or is it replaced by something else? (I like to imagine that somewhere in the great beyond David Bowie is having this conversation with John Lennon and George Harrison -- with Jimi Hendrix and Benjamin Franklin playing a game of air-hockey nearby...)

This might not seem to have much to do with books, but noticing this kind of representational choice, in which form and meaning become intertwined, is exactly what bibliographers and other textual scholars do. Your example need not be as involved as the one I've spun out above: the point is to get us thinking about how representation works.

Friday, 15 January 2016

first blogging question

Welcome to the public blog for INF 2331, The Future of the Book! Each week I'll post follow-up items from our lecture, as well as the set blogging question for the group blog assignment. Lecture slides will be primarily available only on Blackboard, though I may post some embedded Prezi slides here. For now I'll get straight to our blogging question for the coming week.

In our Monday class we'll consider some theoretical frameworks for approaching the future of the book as a topic. One of those frameworks, the discipline of bibliography, concerns itself in part with the relation between a book's physical form and the meanings it makes available for interpretation. The author of one of our recommended readings, D.F. McKenzie, even goes so far as to argue that "forms effect meaning" (in Bibliography and the Sociology of Texts, p. 13). Note his choice of words here: effect as distinct from affect (though once or twice McKenzie's text has been misprinted with "affect," which changes the meaning of his argument but proves his point by accident...). This week's blogging question is fairly open-ended, and geared to get us thinking about the materials we'll study in this course: when was the last time you encountered a book (or book-like thing), whether printed, digital, or otherwise, whose form affected or even effected its meaning in a way that struck you as interesting? What made it interesting?

Please include a full reference so that others can hunt down the book, and be specific about the formal feature(s) that caught your attention. These could be design features -- subtle or overt -- or physical attributes of the book, or some other kind of inventive or playful approach taken by the author, designer, or others involved in the book's making. Remember, too, these effects don't need to be intentional: accidents that happen to books as physical objects can be illuminating, too.